By Dr. Ted Wymyslo, Director of the Ohio Department of Health
The definition of public health is constantly changing. During the last 100 years, public health was focused on maintaining basic sanitary living conditions. Times seemed simpler when the Ohio Department of Health was created as the State Board of Health in 1886 - mostly to help coordinate the fight against tuberculosis. During the first half of the 20th century, the work of public health was primarily focused on controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Today, public health touches most aspects of our lives and is linked to how healthy we see ourselves as individuals - and as a society.
Since the early 1900s, public health initiatives in the U.S., such as clean water, vaccinations, healthier food and safer workplaces, have added an additional 25 years to human life expectancy. Clinical medicine has added only five. Each year, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for millions of premature deaths in our country. With nearly 1 million Americans dying every year from diseases that could be prevented, even small preventive changes and initiatives can make a big difference in living healthier lives. Everyone has a role to play, and each action, no matter how small, can make a big difference in a community. If Ohioans make simple lifestyle choices - exercise more frequently, follow healthier diets, avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, practice proper hand-washing and food preparation, and provide proper treatment to those suffering from mental illnesses - we could dramatically reduce the burden of disease and death moving forward, helping to save lives.
During National Public Health Week, April 2-8, 2012, the Ohio Department of Health encourages all Americans to work together to make small changes to their lives to help prevent chronic diseases and communicable diseases to create a healthier America.
It is time we shift our mindset from being a nation that focuses on caring for the sick to one that encourages preventive measures to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Join me and my colleagues in working to make Ohio a healthier place to live, work and raise a family. Take a moment and make just one positive change a day that will help you live a healthier life. These seemingly small actions can have a big impact when they're spread throughout an entire family, community and nation.
At the Ohio Department of Health, we work every day to protect and improve your health; but we don't do it alone. It is a partnership among local, state and federal agencies, as well as a partnership between these agencies and you, the residents of Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health works with 125 local health departments across the state to protect and improve the lives of Ohioans. Although our goals are similar, many public health duties are divided up between the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments to better serve you.
The Ohio Department of Health's main responsibilities include the ten essential public health services:
- Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems.
- Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community.
- Inform, educate and empower people about health issues.
- Mobilize community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems.
- Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts.
- Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety.
- Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable.
- Ensure a competent public and personal health care workforce.
- Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility and quality of personal and population-based health services.
- Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems.
While some programs benefit from operating at a statewide level so that they can be far-reaching, other programs are most effective at the community level. Depending on the size and budget of a local health department, services may include immunization and health clinics, birth and death records, HIV and STD testing, restaurant inspections, swimming pool regulation, dental care, school health services and home visits for new families. Contact your local health department to learn about their services. Visit the Ohio Department of Health website for a directory.
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